Sunday, January 12, 2014

'Facebook Neurons'

Carnegie Mellon University researchers have found that within the brain's neocortex lies a subnetwork of highly active neurons that behave much like people in social networks.

Like Facebook, these neuronal networks have a small population of highly active members, who give and receive more information than the majority of other members, By identifying these neurons, scientists will now be able to study them further and increase their understanding of the neocortex, which is thought to be the brain's center of higher learning.

Paired cell recording from the cerebral cortex

Up to trillions of neurons make up the neocortex, the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for a number of important functions, including sensory perception, motor function, spatial reasoning, conscious thought and language.

This active network of neurons in the neocortex acts like a social network. There is a small, but significant, population of neurons that are more connected than other neurons. These neurons do most of the heavy lifting, giving and receiving more information than the rest of the neurons in their network.

It's like Facebook. Most of your friends don't post much -- if at all. But, there is a small percentage of your friends on Facebook who update their status and page often. Those people are more likely to be connected to more friends, so while they're sharing more information, they're also receiving more information from their expanded network, which includes other more active participants.

The results also will help to further computational neuroscience, specifically in the area of sparse coding. In sparse coding, scientists hope to study how the brain recruits a small population of neurons to encode information.

Journal Reference:

Lina Yassin, Brett L. Benedetti, Jean-Sébastien Jouhanneau, Jing A. Wen, James F.A. Poulet, Alison L. Barth. An Embedded Subnetwork of Highly Active Neurons in the Neocortex. Neuron, 2011; 68 (6): 1043-1050 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2010.11.029

Natalia Levis-Fox

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